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Jan Blittersdorf, CEO of wind energy high flyer NRG Systems of Hinesburg, VT, whose husband, David Blittersdorf, is a member of the Rubenstein School Board of Advisors, was one of just 120 corporate executives invited to the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, held earlier in the month at the Eisenhower Office Building, adjacent to the White House. Blittersdorf, who was nominated to participate in the forum by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, with the White House making the final invitation, was the only Vermonter at the forum and the sole representative of the wind industry.
Environmental Studies students and Associate Professor Saleem Ali fly to Copenhagen for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, where a worldwide climate change policy could be ratified to replace the Kyoto Protocol Dec. 7-18.
Issa Sawabini, a '99 recreation management grad in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and currently co-owner of Burlington firm Fuse, imagined his career before he lived it when he wrote a business plan in Dave Kaufman's entrepreneurship class. Unaware that Fuse founding partners Bill Carter and Brett Smith were beginning to nurture such a firm right in Burlington, he essentially described Fuse, envisioning "an agency that would help companies connect with snowboarding and mountain biking and do these things correctly — because I, as a consumer, was seeing them all stumble over themselves and do some really terrible marketing." Sawbini, a thirty-two-year-old with a large presence, shaved head, and soul patch, exudes credibility, confidence, and, yes, cool that personify his firm's ability to move with equal authority in the worlds of shaggy teenagers or button-down corporate types. He was recently included in Sports Business Journal's annual "40 Under 40 Awards," a list of the most influential young executives in the sporting world.
Early one Saturday morning in November, while most of their classmates were placidly sawing logs in bed, six GreenHouse students were awake, alert, and doing woodwork of a different sort. Wielding cordless drills, hunched over four long tables, the students were busy converting a stack of weathered 1x6 pine boards into long rectangular boxes helpfully pictured in rough construction drawings on a white board. The work was taking place in room 9 of GreenHouse, UVM's environmentally themed residential learning community, located in the University Heights South building. The students were putting the finishing touches on a project two years in the making — the permitting, siting and construction of an on-campus garden in the green space between U Heights and the Christ Church on Redstone Drive — by building raised beds that would hold the soil and compost for the garden.
Saleem Ali, a chemist and policy analyst by training, and now associate professor of environmental planning in UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, begins his new book, Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and A Sustainable Future, with this question: would the world be a better place if we could somehow curb our desire for material goods?
The Vermont Monitoring Cooperative (VMC) will hold its 19th annual meeting at the University of Vermont on Monday, Oct. 26, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in North Lounge, Billings. The VMC annual meeting is an opportunity for scientists, students, natural resource professionals and policy makers to learn about novel forest health and ecosystem research projects, share information, and network for collaboration. The meeting brings together a broad array of professionals from different disciplines that might not otherwise have the opportunity to share their work and ideas.
To understand how the next disease like SARS or bird flu could arise, take a trip to the Great Ruaha River. It meanders for 300 miles through south-central Tanzania, flowing year-round from the vast Ihefu wetlands through the Ruaha National Park. Or it used to. Starting in 1993, the river stopped running during the dry season. Some years, it's been silent for more than 100 days. Jon Erickson, an associate professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and his Rwandan graduate student, Michel Masozera, have been studying this problem in Tanzania since 2006.
For the last 10,000 years on Earth, it's been a smooth ride. Compared to much of the planet's wildly swinging history — ice age to hothouse — temperatures have been steady, freshwater plentiful, and many biological and chemical cycles reliable. This period of stability, known to geologists as the Holocene, has allowed civilizations to rise and agriculture to flourish. "But now we're heading off a cliff," says the University of Vermont's Robert Costanza. He's one of the authors on a paper published Sept. 24 in the journal Nature, arguing that, actually, there are at least nine cliffs, or "planetary boundaries," that we shouldn't cross at risk of "disastrous consequences for humanity." The paper has been receiving broad attention in the media, from Time magazine to Wired.com, for its new, quantified approach to defining the conditions that have allowed for human development — and its warning that some of these planetary boundaries have been overstepped.
The University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Laboratory, part of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, has received two prestigious honors in recent months. The Definiens corporation, founded by Nobel Prize laureate Gerd Binnig, recently designated the lab one of eight international Centers of Excellence, based in part on the Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) assessment work the lab carried out in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. The other seven Centers of Excellence organizations are among the most well-respected and well-funded remote sensing labs in the world.
Associate Professor Saleem Ali's views don't fall neatly into any box: he's an environmentalist who believes in consumption, a conservationist who sees value in gold mining. His independent perspective and his new book, Treasures of the Earth, forthcoming in October from Yale University Press, are the subject of a profile in the upcoming issue of Forbes magazine.
Lisa Chase, director of the Vermont Tourism Center at the University of Vermont and a specialist with UVM Extension, has been leading a research project "Public Access to Private Lands for Recreation and Tourism in the Northern Forest," that sheds light on how this land might remain open for nature recreation. Chase's research is part of a broader effort by the Northeastern States Research Cooperative5, (NSRC) a multi-state grant program housed at the UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, to provide data and outreach about the Northern Forest. This new video from the NSRC, featuring Chase, explores the challenges of maintaining tourism in the Northern Forest.
On the morning of July 8, Basil Tsimoyianis '09 and ten other Greenpeace activists stood near Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. At the base of the narrow staircase that leads to the path above the gigantic sculpture of four revered U.S. presidents, they stopped. Six people chained themselves across the entrance, blocking the way. Five others, including Tsimoyianis, continued up, laden with ropes and a 65-foot-long banner that showed a black-and-white image of Barack Obama overwritten, "America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming."
For the past two years, undergrad Daniel Lim made daily treks across the oval drive — a sparsely landscaped patch of grass and criss-crossing pathways — just outside the main entrance of the Dudley H. Davis Center. Pedestrian it may be, but Lim had a dream to turn the plain-looking area into a vibrant community space that reflects UVM's environmental, social and ecologically sustainable values. That dream eventually became the basis for his Honors College senior thesis project, and later, the vision for the 2009 Senior Class Gift.
Faculty and students are working to launch Pedal Power, an interdisciplinary project, to wire together all the aerobic exercise machines in the UVM fitness center to generate and capture electrical power. But first, students, staff, and faculty from three UVM colleges and the athletics department - with $5,000 in start-up funds from the provost's office — had a goal of simply showing that the idea could work.
Gary Flomenhoft knew he faced a tall order in trying to convince the Vermont House Committee on Ways and Means that the state should collect economic rent on its natural resources. The concept of charging corporations for the use of water, air and other common assets would be a hard sell and had already died a quiet death two years earlier as a bill that never got out of committee. Determined to make this time different, Flomenhoft, a research associate in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, arrived at the State House armed with a glossy, 52-page research report titled "Valuing Common Assets for Public Finance in Vermont," compiled by 11 UVM students from the Master's of Public Administration (MPA) program, and an oversized check for $1,972 representing the amount every Vermonter would receive under the proposal. Most importantly, the study contained what the previous report and accompanying bill (S.44) introduced by Hinda Miller (D-Burlington) lacked: actual dollar values for each common asset.
Senior Michael Haulenbeek won the Outstanding Service-Learning Student Award for his work as a service-learning teaching assistant in the environmental studies and natural resources course "Systems Thinking for Sustainability."
Last Thursday's second annual Student Research Conference attracted plenty of faculty, in addition to the student participants. Natural Resource majors Katie Kain's and Gwen Kozlowski's well-laid plans called for them to study ways in which reed canary grass, an aggressive invasive, might be managed to keep it from enveloping and suffocating a rare native flower, Jacob's Ladder. But last summer's heavy rains flooded the area they planned to study, killing all the Jacob's Ladder plants. The reed canary grass survived quite well, though, and charting the impressive adaptability of the increasingly ubiquitous species became the new focus of the study.
With Pakistan much in the headlines in recent years — and especially in recent weeks — Islamic educational institutions there have received intense public scrutiny. These religious schools, madrassahs, are often portrayed in the popular press as closely linked to militancy and jihadist activity. But much of this view has relied on anecdotes and visiting journalists. Now a new book, Islam and Education: Conflict and Conformity in Pakistan's Madrassahs, by University of Vermont associate professor Saleem H. Ali analyzes these diverse seminaries in Pakistan with a rigorous scientific approach and a wealth of local knowledge.
It's a dappled April afternoon on a hardwood slope in the White Mountains of central New Hampshire. Four University of Vermont undergraduates huff uphill on aluminum snowshoes, deep in the US Forest Service's Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Snow lies in granular strips and blobs, covering most of the leafy floor like a cake frosting project gone bad. The students are silent while the wind and fickle sun argue between March and May. They've been working all day for Beverley Wemple, professor of geography, who has employed them through a National Science Foundation grant that supports undergraduates participating in research.
The most obvious fact about ecological economics is that, well, ecology comes before economics. "For example," says Joshua Farley, an economist at the University of Vermont, "without healthy ecosystems to regulate climate and rainfall and provide habitat for pollinators, agriculture would collapse." Which makes it tough to sell cars. Put another way, "we need economic production to survive, but we also need healthy ecosystems and the service they provide," he says. No bees, no food, no trip to the grocery store. This hierarchy of logic might seem self-evident, but to ecological economists — like Farley and graduate student Rachael Beddoe and their colleagues at UVM's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics — the mainstream of economic thought seems to have the formula backward. Get the economy growing again, the conventional argument goes, then we'll have the time and resources to take care of the environment; let the market set a price tag on conservation and the ecosystems will take care of themselves. Farley and Beddoe are the lead authors of two new papers — one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the other in the journal Conservation Biology — that take aim at these economic orthodoxies.
Bill Keeton is an expert on old-growth forests and an associate professor of forest ecology and forestry at the University of Vermont. His latest research findings, published in the journal Ecological Applications, show that instead of reaching peak carbon storage at middle age, old-growth forests in the northeastern U.S. continue to build biomass for hundreds of years, pulling carbon from the atmosphere faster than they give it up through decomposition. "Our data, and other recent studies, have shown that not only do old forests store very large amounts of carbon, they can continue to sequester new carbon for centuries," Keeton says. Old-growth forests do have slower rates of uptake than their younger brethren, but they are far from being leaky geriatric ecosystems.
More than 12,000 college students from across the country descended on Washington, D.C., over the weekend for Power Shift '09, a youth-led rally on climate change — and the University of Vermont sent the largest delegation of any school, 204 students. Professor Stephanie Kaza, the faculty sponsor for the students' trip, noted that many of the students plan to follow the rally with activism back on campus. "The last Power Shifters in '07 came back and organized the Forest Crimes Unit taking on toilet paper purchasing on campus," she noted, which contributed to a new university-wide contract for green-certified toilet paper.
Carbonrally.com is the brainchild of Jason Karas '89, a graduate of UVM's Environmental Program, who saw an opportunity to use the social networking power of the Internet to slow global warming. In 2007, he made the leap from working in the mobile telecommunications industry to starting up the Carbonrally initiative. "There are some serious issues that we're dealing with as a society, and the mass market is waking up to this," Karas says. "We saw a need for some real tools that everyday people can use."
The public is invited to the opening reception for "Emergence," the striking glass-blown sculpture that hangs above the atrium of UVM's Dudley H. Davis Center created by Ethan Bond-Watts, a senior majoring in environmental studies.
"People have been saying, 'Save the rainforest, man,' for years," John-O Niles '91 says, doing his best to lend the right hippie dude inflection to the well-worn phrase. But in 2005, sparked by the catalyst of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the world started to put significant funding and action behind the bumper-sticker sentiment. As director of the non-profit Tropical Forest Group, Niles built on that opportunity, leading efforts to spur new and better conservation policy and implement programs to conserve and restore forest. Uganda, Nigeria, Mozambique — Niles and his TFG colleagues often focus their work in areas where human conflict has ravaged forests.
When UVM students returned from the semester break there was a large, colorful gift awaiting them in the Davis Center. The new glass sculpture over-hanging the center's third floor Chikago Landing is the work of Ethan Bond-Watts '09, a project commissioned last year by the Class of 2008 as their parting gift to the university.